Friday, May 17, 2013

An introduction to techniques in GURPS

The Palantir players are turning into GURPS sharks. We began the campaign with a streamlined combat system: using a pared down selection from the Basic Set:campaigns.  We introduced soon after a modified action point system to model short term fatigue. We then moved into a wider spectrum of combat options from GURPS Martial Arts. Once we got the hang of this, we introduced Extra Efforts. It is now great time to take this to the next level and get into techniques. This is what this article is all about.

Step 0 - Get the Cheat Sheet from Steve Jackson Games

The cheat sheet is available for free here. However, it makes reference to pages numbers in GURPS Martial Arts. A great deal about combat can be found in GURPS Martial Arts and GURPS Low-Tech. I believe that they both have great values even for people playing other systems. I wish that I had these books when I was playing AD&D 20 years ago. But I digress. 

The cheat sheet includes an extensive list of techniques that can be used by anyone if they have the prerequisite. Here is a fragment:

Fragment from the Free Cheat Sheet from SJG.

Step 1 - Select a cool move available from a prerequisite that you can "do"

For this example, I'll use whirlwind attack. This technique is used when someone want to swirl his/her weapon around to create a danger zone for anyone within reach. It is a crazy move, and it can be done either using the skill Boxing, Karate or any Melee Weapon Skill (MWS). Let's pretend that Halin the dwarf wants to do this with his warhammer. His prerequisite skill will thus be Two-Handed Mace/Axe. In this example, let's assume that Halin has this skill at the level 14 (THM/A-14). 

The default for the Whirlwind attack is PS-5, or Prerequisite minus 5. For Halin, this means that as he whirls around his hammer, each adjacent foe gets an attack at THM/A-9 (14 - 5 = 9). You got to be very skilled with a hammer to make this work well, but sometime you might as well want everyone around to take a retreat dodge to give you a break. 

Step 2 - Throw some character points into Whirlwind Attack

Halin may increase his THM/A skill to improve his Whirlwind attack, but this is expensive as each level in a weapon skill costs 4 points (more or less). If Halin wants the whirlwind to be his signature move, he can simply invest in the technique itself. The first level in a Hard technique costs 2 points, and only 1 point for an Average technique such as Uppercut. Each additional levels will cost only 1 point. 

Halin sinks 2 points into Whirlwind Attack(Warhammer), and is now performing the crazy feat at THM/A-10 instead of THM/A-9. Adding another point brings him to 11. He will be able to add points until he reaches the technique's maximum, which is PS, or in this example 14. The maximum would be reached with 6 points. Increasing his THA/M skill by 5 levels instead would cost 20 points! 

Specifically in the Palantir and Khazad-dum campaigns, you got to try the technique "live" and be granted a point in the pre-requisite skill before you can put points into it.

Concluding remarks

This is it. It is that simple! Techniques are great because they allow players to define signature moves for their characters. There is more to techniques, such as non-combat techniques as well. Maybe I'll write next on making techniques up for yourself. With this mechanic, players gets to join the GURPSy fun of playing with a toolbox (this fun doesn't have to be only for GMs). 

For the minmaxers in the room, taking on a few techniques is much cheaper than building up a whole skill. However, increasing too many techniques defaulting on the same skill is inefficient. for example, raising 4 hard techniques by 5 points costs 24 points. Increasing the default skill itself by 5 levels costs at most 20 points.  Putting points into techniques is really only to specialize and earn that "I'm special" button to pin on your chainmail for the next big dungeon crawl.


  1. Just sayin, Whirlwind Attack with a warhammer is a bad idea, cause those things get stuck! But Khazek will definitely give it a shot with his staff if he ever gets a chance!

    1. funny that you mention. In the "Piling up Orcs at the Gate of Mandos" story, Halin, who uses an oversized warhammer to match his ST 14, swung into an orc's neck, causing 3XHP damage so I ruled that the hammer just went through...

      No a whilrwind attack but: Later in the encounter, he slammed into another hammer first which got stuck. He treated the hammer+orc combo as a heavier weapon to cause slam damage into the guys standing right beside him. In the end, the Orchammer caused much less damage than the hammer itself so it quickly got broken down into its separate components.

    2. Oh yeah, not only it went through the neck, but to finally get stuck into the skull of the next orc...

      Otherwise I agree, a hammer isn't quite ideal for a whirlwind attack.

  2. ...I sense a two-handed axe in my future... :)